November 16, 2006

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The Return (PG-13)
Sarah Michelle Gellar gets smacked around by repressed memories and by a stalker who may or may not be real in The Return, a dreary horror movie that points to an unfortunate future for our poor Buffy.

I noticed on Internet Movie Database that Gellar is playing the lead in The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, a movie based on the chick lit of the same name and schedule to hit screens in 2007. I hope Gellar pulls it out because how long can a career based on being terrified last? Here, as in The Grudge and The Grudge 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer, she spends a lot of time gasping and running. I realize that she has a track record of these things but it can't be good for her to keep taking these roles. She is 29. At some point, you've gotta stretch.

Here, her Joanna Mills (Gellar) might just as well have been another victim of the Grudge. After a car accident as a child, she suddenly becomes strange and withdrawn. She also starts running from an imaginary "strange man" and she cuts herself. So, you know, maybe a therapist is order. Instead, she grows up and becomes a rootless salesperson who seldom stays in one town for more than a few days.

Though not a fan of returning to her home state of Texas, she heads down there in hopes of making a big sale. There she has even more of her weird flashbacks (of a woman who looks similar to her but has blue eyes and is always terrified; of a man who is hunting her and calling her "sunshine") and, in these dazes, cuts herself again.

This time, however, a man named Griff (J.C. MacKenzie) makes appearances both in her visions and in reality. Griff seems to have a bad reputation with the townsfolk but he does help Joanna out when a creepy colleague (Adam Scott) attacks her at the bar. She tells Griff about her weirdness and finds out that his unpopularity is due in part to the death of his girlfriend, a woman people believe he killed.

There is a difference between simply waiting to reveal certain facts until the end of a story and the actual creation and sustaining of suspense. About two minutes in, you get that one of two things has happened to Joanna. About five minutes in, you can correctly guess which one it is. The remaining hour and 20 minutes are spent slowly slogging to the obvious solution to the puzzle of what's making Joanna nuts. There is no clever twist though there are plenty of incongruous little side plots and diversions. (Why Joanna's coworker would make a day's drive just to threaten her, for example.) The movie holds back the details of the spookiness surrounding Joanna, dealing them out in small doses. The information is not revealed with any particular grace, it's just plopped down and rather than being suspenseful, and the waiting around for the next piece of the puzzle is merely tedious. D

Rated PG-13 for violence, terror and disturbing images. Directed by Asif Kapadia and written by Adam Sussman, The Return is an hour and 25 minutes long and is distributed by Rogue Pictures in wide release.

Amy Diaz